In The Floating Island, we first met Ven Polypheme, an unusual specimen of the ancient Nain race. Unlike the typical Nain, whose idea of a good time is to dig ore out of a mountain’s roots, Ven’s family lives in a human city and specializes in building ships. Unlike other members of his large, practical family, Ven has the itchy feet of an explorer. And unlike practically anyone else in known history, Ven has survived an attack by the Fire Pirates. By the opening of this sequel, Ven has found his way to a wayside inn staffed by orphaned children. His friends include the cook’s mate of a sailing ship, a pastor-in-training for a congregation of little people, a pickpocket named Ida No, and a quiet little Gwadd girl who shares her people’s power to make things grow. These friends are ready to join Ven on his next adventure, when young King Vandemere sends him to the thieves’ market to seek the origin of a mysterious, glowing stone.
You see, Vandemere has hired Ven to be his eyes and ears in the wide world, reporting on any real magic he may find. Only now, on a day when everything goes wrong, the king has also fired Ven. The young Nain is still resolved to go and find out what he can, even though the Gated City is such a dangerous place. This walled-off area within the port city of Kingston has long been home to charlatans, pickpockets, and worse. Visitors are only allowed once a week, on market days, and can only get in and out with the aid of tokens purchased at the gate. Anyone caught inside the Gated City’s walls after the closing bell, will be stuck there at least until the next week’s market day. And though some of the people who live there are decent folk, some are downright dangerous—especially within the keyhole-shaped gate that leads to the Inner Market, where the evil Thief Queen rules over her Raven Court.
When Ven and friends try their wits against Queen Felonia and her villains, trouble is bound to break out. And break out it does. First their most vulnerable companion disappears, stolen from under their noses. Then someone ransacks the shop of a weapons dealer who has shown them kindness. A scary fortune-teller lays a strange and perhaps costly gift on Ven, one he has no time to learn how to use just yet. And of course, the kids find themselves trapped between the Thief Queen and her hideous plans for her daughter. Only as they make their death-defying escape do they discover the good magic hidden within the walls of the bad city.
This is the second book in “The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme,” a series that continues with The Dragon’s Lair. A fourth book, titled The Tree of Water, will be published in October 2014. Elizabeth Haydon, whose dust-cover bio reads like the made-up credentials of a pseudonym like Lemony Snicket or Pseudonymous Bosch, is nevertheless also known for her (so far) seven-book “Symphony of Ages” series, running from Rhapsody: Child of Blood to her most recent title, The Merchant Emperor. In the present book, Haydon alternates between fragments from Ven’s first-person journal and a third-person narrative that supposedly fills in the gaps. Is it original fiction or literary restoration? Answer: Yes. For in addition to her original characters and world-building, Haydon gives us lightly disguised retellings of such classic stories as Cinderella. Meanwhile, the tale-within-a-tale, explaining a certain Wonder revealed in this book, is a movingly beautiful imitation of traditional folklore. Ven’s journey also includes a clever riddle and a valuable lesson about how to spot a true friend. And the young adventurers’ thrilling escape reveals layer upon layer of danger and magic brooding beneath the surface of the Kingdom of Serendair.